If you love romantic comedy, you are sure to enjoy author Nancy Balbirer’s witty sense of humor and her candid observations as she peals back the layers of her true to life love story in her new memoir, Almost Romance!
Falling in love is not always easy, can take some time and may need a little help from friends. We witness Nancy’s budding almost romance of 30 plus years with young Howie, now Howard J. Morris, the producer of the wildly successful tv show, Grace and Frankie, as their relationship get pushed to something more with a little help from the Netflix show writers and the residents of a Manhattan apartment building.
There is everything to love in this heartfelt and humorous account of a romance in the making that took what feels like a lifetime to come to fruition. With hysterical emails back and forth between Nancy and Howie, her NYU classmate, we see their relationship wax and wane while experiencing bad timing and missed opportunities over and over. Marriage, a child, divorce, cross country moves, successes and failures and life happened, but a spark between the two of them refused to remain hidden. Their authentic love, from NYC to Hollywood, built over time from years of friendship and heartfelt support for each other shines through every step of the way and makes for a compelling, quick read that answers the age old question “Is there love after love?”. You will root for Nancy and Howie and the possibility of love after 50…a perfect, uplifting story of romance that delivers hope for all, recognizing that finding your person can take time, and reminding us that “falling off the path is part of the path”.
Q & A with Nancy
Q: Nancy, you have written about your career (Take Your Shirt Off and Cry), your failed marriage and beloved dog (A Marriage in Dog Years), and now your love story (Almost Romance) that was in the making since the 1980s. When did you decide your relationship with Howie (Howard J. Morris, producer of Grace and Frankie) was going to be the topic of a memoir?
A: After dating for nine months, Howie and I got married at City Hall in NYC and the New York Times wrote about it for their Vows column. They covered a lot of our history: how we’d met as teenagers in the early ‘80’s at NYU; how we’d been besties and confidantes and been secretly (and at times not so secretly) in love and how finally, after thirty-two years (and the well-intentioned needling of both Howie’s Grace and Frankie writing staff and the nosy-but-loving neighbors in my Chelsea apartment building), we had a first date. To our surprise, the article made a real impact—both with people who knew us and people who did not. It was shared widely and all sorts of people—from long lost friends to total strangers and everything in between—reached out to say how moved they were by the story. Something about the idea of late-life-love and two people who knew and loved each other over the course of many years, really captured a lot of people’s imaginations. What impressed me about it was that it wasn’t just the usual rosy romantics who were expressing how deeply affected they were to us, but people who seemed normally unflappably cool and even cynical about love. I thought to myself, well, the Times covered the story but they certainly didn’t cover the whole story because how could they? I was having lunch with my editor one day around the publication of my second book, A Marriage in Dog Years and she asked me what I wanted to do next and without hesitation, and almost completely extemporaneously, I pitched her the entire book over the very delicious Caesar salads at the Breslin Bar. When I was done we both sort of looked at each other and she goes: “Yup, it’s a book!.”
Q: In Almost Romance you tell much of your story though email correspondence between you and Howie over practically a lifetime. Are these actual messages that went back and forth, or did you create the exchanges in order to tell us background for the book?
A: These are all actual emails between us but with some zhuzhing: some emails were combined or edited for clarity; some emails were edited to include either actual in-real-life conversations between us or yes, to include details/exposition necessary to the narrative and/or narrative arc.
Q: Your use of language and vocabulary makes for an entertaining and active process when it comes to reading Almost Romance…I could hear you talking to me, describing all your crazy situations and I could feel your angst as you worked through your feelings. I was laughing and crying and imagined myself in the audience at a one woman show. How did you decide the format in which you would share this relationship journey with readers and do you use a thesaurus when writing?
A: Haha—OMG I love this question (which is actually several questions!)! So, first, I came to writing from acting and even more specifically from writing a theatrical solo show, so everything I write I intend for the reader’s experience to be like we’re just friends, hanging and I’m telling YOU this story. This is how I write all the time BUT with this story, in particular, this was my MO. There is not ONE WORD that was not read aloud a billion times before it made it into the manuscript. I wanted, for this very intimate story, for the reader to feel the same sort of intimacy with me that they read in the emails between me and Howie. Second, the format or the structure of this book was something I instantly saw in my head when it first occurred to me that this story was a book. I knew it was three parts and I knew the titles for each: Part One, The Russian Samovar, I knew though it would be shifting back in time to the earliest years of our relationship, would take place over the course of one evening; I knew that Part Two would be called London Terrace and would be about my fabulous neighbors; the alleged curse on our building and how I ultimately decided to take the leap and accept Howie’s invitation to fly to Ashland, Oregon and Part Three would be what happened when I got there. But while I knew that this was what it should be, it took me a long-ass time to figure out exactly how the story would unfold. You start with what you know and you feel really good about that until you have to deal with what you don’t! But, that’s what it is—that’s the gig. You’ll find it, even if there are many, many days when you feel like you won’t. And, as for a thesaurus, here’s the thing: I am absolutely OBSESSED with words. I love them—their nuances; their rhythms and specificity, how they sound in your head; how they feel in your mouth. The right word IS, to me, the right word and finding that right word is and has always been my passion. If I were to be anything else, have any other job, it would be as a lyricist. Because in writing lyrics, one has to always consider how does it scan with the music and I feel this exact same way about prose: there is an inherent pulse, tempo—what jazz musicians call “swing”—to a story and it’s that “feel” that I’m always chasing and words are my box of cray-pas.
Q: What was your writing process like? Did you spend a certain amount of time on it each day? Did you do an outline? Had you kept a journal over the years?
A: My process is essentially this: I have an idea that something is “a thing;” it’s a story, or the kernel of a story or idea that won’t leave me alone, so I start writing on it, around it, about it. But because I am deeply, deeply anxious and insecure and also given to terrible stage fright, I can’t “announce it” even to myself as “writing” so I don’t do any of this in a word document. Instead, I open the “notes” app on either my phone or laptop and I begin. I write and write and write. And it’s super fun and joyful and naughty and, totally honest and above all, it’s the most unbridled, unabashed ME there could be. And, I do this because in the notes app, there are no critics. There are none of the nasty, awful, mean, voices in my head telling me that because I never studied writing, my voice doesn’t matter, that work is shit. They can’t find me there in notes. I’m flying under the radar where I’m free to *actually* write. I do this every day—no set hour or time; it literally happens all day long in dribs and drabs that last for a half -hour or several, depending. Then, once I have enough stuff, I cut and paste into word and when I get enough stuff, I assemble it all into yet another document and I go to work editing (which I love, by the way). When I’m at this stage I become so trance-like that I dream about the work and have to wake up to voice-dictate shit into my phone. My husband calls my process a snowball down a mountain picking up more and more snow and velocity as it goes. I think this is an accurate description.
Q: Did you share the manuscript with Howie and any others prior to publishing and based on their input did you change anything significant?
A: I have a few people who read my first drafts: my editor, my husband, my friend the author Mike Albo and my shrink. That’s it. Then, when it’s in galley form, I have a very tight circle of people I have read to give me feedback. I will also let people who happen to be in the story read to make sure I got it right. The only change I made to this book was when my friend Troy pointed out that the sneakers he was wearing the day my daughter and I first met him and his partner Nathaniel were NOT Balenciaga—they were Louboutin! Suffice it to say that this was an error I corrected immediately. But, in all seriousness, the only significant changes to the manuscript were made to conceal the real Darth Vader’s identity. I knew as I was writing that the day would come when I had to make those changes but I wanted to feel free as I wrote to get the story down knowing that later I’d be making changes to protect his privacy.
Q: Did Howie recollect happenings differently and did he wordsmith any of his letters to you for the book?
A: No—the good news is that Howie really thought I not only remembered it all accurately but that I captured “us” in a way that he totally recognized! He had, as I say in the book, forgotten completely about the incident at David’s Pot Belly (and more importantly, David’s Pot Belly’s sensational potato balls) but the factual stuff he absolutely felt I got right.
Q: Has your daughter read Almost Romance and what does she think about the antics with Darth Vader, your acknowledgement that her upbringing has been unconventional compared to yours (co-raised by gay neighbors and friends in the NYC apartment building sans Disney movies etc.) and your now happy life with Howie?
A: My daughter has read the book and loves it (phew!)! She’s 16 (almost 17 now) and was horrified to read about the stuff that happened with Darth Vader, for one thing because she was only 9 when I was seeing him and at that age was SO excited when I was finally dating again after being so anti-dating for so long. But, as you know from the book, she never met him; I put a big boundary on that as I was not going to be bringing any man I was seeing into her world unless and until it was serious. In terms of her unconventional childhood, I think that while she enjoyed all the movies and musicals we shared together and loved and still loves our wonderful neighbors from our kooky Chelsea apartment building, it was challenging for her to be with kids her own age. It’s something I touch on in the book, but it’s sort of hard to be hanging out in this very adult world all the time and then trying to hang with other 8 or 9 or 10 year olds who don’t have the same references or experiences at all. I was very aware of this but at the same time I didn’t know quite how to help her navigate it. I asked her about this recently and she told me that while, yes, it was hard, she’s ultimately very glad she had the upbringing she had and that includes our time at London Terrace in NYC as well as the fact that once Howie and I married, we moved to California. The movie precipitated her becoming closer to her paternal grandparents and cousins who live out here as well AND her absolutely thriving both academically and socially in middle school and now high school. She’s still pretty sophisticated for a junior in high school (how did she get this old???) but she’s also an extremely talented visual artist and she has suggested that her early exposure to all sorts of art and talented, interesting people has been instrumental to her development on that front. And, she absolutely adores her bonus-dad, Howie as much as he adores his bonus-daughter! How lucky can you get?
Q: Will you be going on a book tour and how can people find out about your speaking events?
A: Yes! Currently, I have the following events scheduled with more to come so stay tuned! (*People can find the most up-to-date schedule by visiting my website: nancybalbirer.com or following me on Instagram: @nancybalbirer.
Feb 1—Chevalier’s Books, Los Angeles 7PM [In-Person] *BOOK LAUNCH*
Feb 2—The Jane Club with June Diane Raphael 2PM PT [Virtual]
Feb 3—Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Podcast with Zibby Owens 10AM PT/1PM ET [Virtual]
Q: This is your third memoir – do you think you will write another one? Do you have any new project in the works?
A: I think I will always return to memoir because I love it as a form but at the moment I’m actually thinking about fiction for my next book. And, as for projects in the works, Howie and I working together to adapt Almost Romance for the screen!
Q: What are your top 5 movies and why?
The Wizard of Oz
All About Eve
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
*(To explain the why of these movies for me would be an entire book so let me just say that 3 out of the 5 are about how people are transformed by friendship and love and the other 2 are creepy and hilarious and hilariously creepy. They all share in common pitch-perfect writing and performances and direction as well as astonishing design elements and I make viewing these movies a requirement for anyone who is interested in being super close to me!)
Q: What are your favorite TV Shows, Broadway Musicals and Plays?
Favorite TV Shows:
Call My Agent, Fleabag, Succession, Catastrophe, I May Destroy You, Lupin, The Shrink Next Door, Normal People, The Crown, Shtisel, Sex and the City, Mad Men, All in the Family, Freaks and Geeks, Taxi, Mary Tyler Moore, Downton Abbey, The Bob Newhart Show, Soap, The Late Show with David Letterman, 30 Something, My So-Called Life, The Muppet Show, Fawlty Towers, I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke, Good Times, Carol Burnett, SNL 1975-1980, Match game with Gene Rayburn!, Free To Be You and Me, Dick Cavett, Sixty Minutes, Grace and Frankie
Pippin, Gypsy, Hamilton, The Wiz, Oliver!, They’re Playing Our Song, A Chorus Line, West Side Story, Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Anything Goes, Cabaret, South Pacific, Dreamgirls, Xanadu, Tip-Toes, 42nd Street, The Most Happy Fella, Chicago, Sweet Charity, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Bells Are Ringing, Funny Face, The Gospel at Colonus, Hair, I Love My Wife, Wonderful Town, Shenandoah, Fiddler on the Roof, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1912, Sunday in the Park with George
A Streetcar Named Desire, Awake and Sing, Top Dog/ Under Dog, The Shadow of a Gunman, Angels in America, Waiting for Godot, The Waverly Gallery, Noises Off, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Private Lives, American Buffalo, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, King Lear, A View From The Bridge, This Is Our Youth, A Doll’s House, Sweet Bird of Youth, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, A Raisin in the Sun, Orpheous Decending, Romeo and Juliet, August: Osage County, God of Carnage, The Piano Lesson, The Lady in Question
Q: What have you read lately that you recommend?
A: I don’t read books while I’m writing so I am catching up on all kinds of things now. Here’s some books I’ve loved lately:
Nothing Personal Nancy Jo Sales
Live Your Life Amanda Kloots
A Star is Bored Byron Lane
My Body Emily Ratajkowski
Interior Chinatown Charles Yu
Romantic Comedy in Hollywood James Harvey
I am also just starting Capote’s Women by Laurence Leamer and loving it!
Q: Do you miss performing on stage/on set and do you think you will ever go back to it?
A: I never say never but to be perfectly honest I don’t really miss it. For one thing, I get to use my voice and express myself in a much more gratifying way as a writer than I ever did as an actor and I also find myself performing every day: I read everything I write aloud; I play all the parts and I always record my own audiobooks which is a total gas. Once a year, I am in my friend Charles Busch’s cult classic Christmas play, Times Square Angel where I play a rotating bevvy of floozies for a rapt audience of 300 gay men and Sarah Jessica Parker and it’s literally the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. I have a feeling I will act again—either on film or television or on stage because I still identify on some level as an actor because I started so young and it’s the only art form I ever studied in earnest and when that’s the case, it never leaves you. And while I’m excited to see how it all unfolds, what’s most thrilling to me is because I know actors so well and I’m friends with so many of them, the idea of writing FOR actors is where I’m going to be putting my focus(in addition to writing more books)!
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: Just that I am SO excited for people to read this book! After the last few dystopian shitshow years, people deserve to read/see/hear that even dystopian shitshows don’t last forever and that we all have potential for joy, laughter, for becoming our best selves and most important of all, FOR LOVE.
Thank you to booktrtib.com for publishing my review!
About the Author:
Nancy Balbirer is a writer and performer of stage and screen. She is the author of A Marriage in Dog Years and Take Your Shirt Off and Cry: A Memoir of Near-Fame Experiences. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.